Dutch Colony

The first settlements in New York were made in 1624, when the Dutch West India Company sent out a boatload of colonists. Most of the settlers established themselves in the northern Hudson Valley, near the future site of Albany, at Fort Orange. The next year more colonists arrived and made their home on the lower tip of Manhattan, at a site that came to be known as New Amsterdam. In 1626 the governor of the colony, Peter Minuit, purchased Manhattan from the local Native Americans for trinkets valued at about $24. The Dutch colony, called New Netherland, grew slowly at first, because the Dutch West India Company neglected the northern outposts in favor of its holdings in the rich West Indies. A handful of traders supplied the Native Americans who brought in furs, the region’s prime resource. In 1629, however, the company offered its members large estates, called patroonships, if they would send settlers to New Netherland. Most of these ventures did not succeed, because few Dutch wanted to leave their homeland.

In 1637 the company appointed Willem Kieft director-general of New Netherland. A dictatorial leader, Kieft drove the colony into war in 1641 with the Algonquian tribes of the area. After a series of disputes arose between settlers and natives over land ownership, Kieft tried to impose a tax on the Native Americans to help pay for fortification of the settlements. When the tribes refused, Kieft caused the massacre of more than 100 native inhabitants. Four years of raids and reprisals by both sides followed, in which more than 1000 Native Americans and settlers were killed.

Kieft was replaced in 1647 by Peter Stuyvesant. Although honest and efficient, Stuyvesant also used dictatorial methods in governing the colonists, who opposed high taxes on imports and demanded a voice in the government. Meanwhile, English colonists had expelled Dutch settlers from the Connecticut Valley and founded settlements on present-day Long Island. In 1650 Stuyvesant was forced to cede all of Long Island east of Oyster Bay to Connecticut, an English colony.

English Colony

In 1664 King Charles II of England decided to take over the entire region, basing his claim on the explorations made for England by explorer John Cabot in 1497 and 1498. Charles granted to his brother James, Duke of York and Albany, all the land between the Connecticut and Delaware rivers. To enforce the English claim, Colonel Richard Nicolls sailed into New York Harbor with four ships and 400 soldiers. Stuyvesant wanted to fight, but the citizens of New Amsterdam were unwilling to resist. New Netherland and New Amsterdam were renamed New York. Beverwyck, the settlement that grew up around Fort Orange, became known as Albany.

In 1665 Nicolls, the first English governor of the colony, called a meeting of the representatives of settlers living on Long Island and in what is now Westchester County. He refused their request for an assembly, but he gave them some degree of local self-government. A document, called the Duke’s Laws, provided for the election of town boards and constables and guaranteed freedom of worship. Later these rights were granted to the rest of the province.

In 1682 Thomas Dongan was made governor. He called a representative assembly, which in 1683 adopted the Charter of Liberties and Privileges. This charter called for an elected legislature to levy taxes and make laws, and it guaranteed trial by jury and freedom of worship. Dongan gave New York and Albany charters providing for limited home rule and trading rights. He also cultivated the goodwill of the Iroquois, who were a buffer between New York and the French colony in Canada.

The guarantees of the charter never went into effect. In 1685 the Duke of York and Albany became king as James II, and he included New York within the Dominion of New England, a colony that incorporated most of New England under the close control of a royal governor. New Yorkers were infuriated when James dismissed Dongan and placed them under Sir Edmund Andros, the dominion’s governor, who ruled from Boston.

Land Grants

The English governors of New York gave huge tracts of land to their friends, which resulted in only a small number of landowners. Many of these landlords were more interested in land speculation than in settlement, so the colony’s population grew slowly outside the major towns. Of special importance in New York’s history were the manors, large land holdings whose owners had almost unlimited power over them. Six such manors covered more than half of present-day Westchester County. The only successful Dutch patroonship, Rensselaerswyck, became a manor under the English. Located near Albany, it consisted of more than 280,000 hectares (700,000 acres). The Manor of Saint George, on Long Island, was more than 80 km (50 miles) long and covered the central part of the island from shore to shore.

The landholding aristocracy and the wealthy merchants of New York City controlled colonial affairs. Among the most prominent and influential families were the Livingstons, Schuylers, De Lanceys, and Van Cortlandts. Most of New York’s small farmers were located on Long Island and along the Hudson River in what is now Ulster County.

Leisler’s Rebellion

In 1689 news arrived in New York that James II had been overthrown in England’s Glorious Revolution and that Andros, governor of the Dominion of New England, had been captured by Boston rebels. A group of armed New Yorkers called on Jacob Leisler, a German-born merchant, to take command of the colony. Leisler was stubborn and ill-tempered, but he championed the people’s rebellion against the local aristocracy of landlords and merchants. He won control over the whole colony and established an assembly.

In 1691 King William III, who had replaced James II, sent Colonel Henry Sloughter to take charge of New York. Sloughter listened to the charges of Leisler’s enemies and immediately set up a special court that convicted Leisler of treason. Leisler was executed, and for 20 years the colony remained split into two camps with hostile interests.